Judge cuts jury award in St. Paul police shooting by two-thirds

Kim Handy Jones talks about the police shooting of her son, Cordale Handy.
Kim Handy Jones talks about the police shooting death of her son, Cordale Handy in 2018 at a vigil.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

A judge has sharply reduced the $11.5 million judgment awarded to the mother of Cordale Handy, who was killed by St. Paul police in 2017.

In July, a federal jury found St. Paul Police officer Nathaniel Younce civilly liable for the 2017 shooting death of Handy, 29. At the same time jurors declined to hold liable a second officer involved in the incident, Mikko Norman.

Jurors later awarded Handy’s mother Kim Handy Jones $1.5 million in punitive damages plus $10 million in compensatory damages. But after the city filed a challenge, Judge David Doty reduced the compensatory award to $2.5 million.

In a Feb. 8 decision, Doty wrote that while Handy was a loving and engaged member of his family who cared for his mother and siblings, he did not financially support them, and Handy Jones’ attorneys provided “meager evidence” of "quantifiable monetary loss."

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Doty gave Handy Jones until March 1 to decide whether to accept the lower amount or request a new trial on compensatory damages.

I have gone through six years of struggle to get to a trial where I listened to the horrible things that the City said about my son,” Handy Jones said in a statement that her attorney sent to MPR News on Wednesday.

“Judge Doty said that he trusted the collective wisdom of twelve citizens to find justice. Finally a jury of citizens that did not look like me found the officer who killed my son responsible and found $10 million in damages. No amount of money will ever replace my son, but it shocks my conscience that Judge Doty thinks that the life of a 29-year-old black man is only worth $2.5 million despite that jury finding otherwise. This ruling is killing my son’s memory all over again. Now I have to endure the unnecessary grief and suffering of reliving his death and hearing the awful things the City says about my son at yet another trial.”

“We appreciate the Court's response to our request, St. Paul city spokesperson Kamal Baker said in a separate statement. “The City is reviewing the decision and will decide on the appropriate action in the coming weeks.”

On March 15, 2017, Younce and Norman responded to a 911 call from the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood about a woman screaming inside an apartment. A man, who was later determined to be Handy, had fired 16 shots inside the home. 

There’s no indication that Handy had threatened anyone. Handy Jones said that her son was experiencing a mental health crisis and thought that someone was trying to hurt or kill him.

The officers caught up with Handy nearby and later said they opened fire after Handy pointed a gun toward one of them. Handy Jones said her son had tossed away the weapon and posed no threat. 

The incident happened just before St. Paul police began wearing body cameras. Surveillance footage shows Handy staggering down the street while holding a gun. But there is no visual evidence to indicate whether he was holding the weapon when the officers shot him.

In his 2017 decision not to charge the officers, Choi contended that Handy ignored orders to drop his pistol and pointed it at police. Choi also noted that an autopsy determined that Handy had drugs in his system including so-called “bath salts,” which can result in erratic behavior.

In December, the St. Paul City Council approved a $380,000 settlement with Handy’s girlfriend Markeeta Johnson-Blakney after she alleged in a lawsuit that police unlawfully detained her in a squad car.

Council members held a closed-door session Wednesday afternoon to discuss a $210,000 settlement with Jill Mollner, another witness to the incident who alleged that police unconstitutionally detained her